NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Wolf tries again to impose fees for state police

Bucks County
DEP to host public meeting regarding proposed Elcon facility in Falls

Chester County
New task force to define Devon Center

Delaware County
Radnor planners nix proposed lighting ordinance

Montgomery County
Land owners fight Lower Merion School District over use of eminent domain

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia could expand residential tax-abatement program
 

 



 

News Briefs Archive February 11, 2019

 

General News

First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account legislation introduced
Legislation that would create a First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account Program in Pennsylvania was recently introduced in the state House. House Bill 128, introduced by state representatives Rosemary Brown (R-189) and Ryan Bizzarro (D-3), has 37 bi-partisan co-sponsors. The program would allow Pennsylvanians to save money toward the purchase of a home, and the money saved would qualify as a tax deduction for their state income tax. Parents and grandparents would be eligible to save for children and grandchildren. “We’re pleased that these legislators recognize the importance of homeownership and see the need to help Pennsylvanians achieve the dream of owning a home,” said Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® President Bill McFalls. The program could result in an increase of home purchases of up to 4,000 annually in Pennsylvania, according to research conducted by the Anderson Economic Group. To learn more about the proposed Pennsylvania First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account Program and to contact your legislator, visit www.FirstHomePA.com(Ed. note: This brief was corrected from the emailed version to include state Rep. Rosemary Brown as the co-sponsor of the legislation.)
Source: PARJustListed.com; 2/6/2019

Register for PAR Public Policy Regional Trainings
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) is offering a series of Public Policy Training sessions to provide members the tools to be engaged in PAR’s advocacy efforts. In the interactive training sessions, participants will learn how to tell their real estate stories to affect change in Harrisburg and their communities. A local session will be held at Crowne Plaza Valley Forge in King of Prussia on Thursday, March 21, from 2 to 5 p.m. Visit the PAR website to see all six available training sessions across the state and to register to attend.

Gov. Wolf unveils state budget
Governor Tom Wolf unveiled a $34.1 billion budget that would increase funding for public schools, raise the minimum wage, and help counties update their voting machines. The budget recognizes the realities of negotiating with the Republican-controlled legislature, which has refused to consider increases in the state sales and personal income taxes. The governor’s plan would increase spending by $1.4 billion over last year, and projects that revenue from taxes and fees will grow 2.6 percent — or about $900 million — in the next fiscal year. The plan counts on people making a higher minimum wage paying more in sales and income taxes and raising money from a new fee on state police coverage in municipalities with no police of their own. Wolf will ask state lawmakers to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $12 per hour starting in July, with additional increases coming each year until 2025, when it would reach $15 an hour. Wolf’s budget seeks to impose a fee of $8 to $166 per person on municipalities that rely on the state police for patrol coverage. Although not included in the budget, a debate on a severance tax on natural gas to fund a disaster recovery and infrastructure improvement loan is expected. Republican leaders have resisted attempts to pass a severance tax in the past, citing potential harm to the natural gas industry. The budget plan calls for an additional $200 million in funding for K-12 instruction in public schools, an extra $50 million for special education and an additional $7 million for Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities. Other funding includes: $15 million to help counties cover the cost of upgrading voting machines; $4.6 million for agricultural projects and farm business support; and an additional $1.5 million to provide people with the opioid overdose-reversal drug Naloxone. Click here for more about the proposed budget and here for a transcript of the governor’s address.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 2/6/2019

Bucks County

Rockhill Quarry zoning hearings continued
The next East Rockhill Zoning Hearing Board hearing regarding Rockhill Quarry will be held on Monday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m. at the Bucks County Community College Upper Bucks Campus, 1 Hillendale Road, Perkasie. Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp. is appealing the township’s denial of zoning permits that would allow the company to ship out asphalt made at the property. The township argues that a 1989 zoning change made the manufacturing of asphalt a non-conforming use in the township’s Extraction District. The quarry was dormant dating back to the 1980s before reopening in December 2017. The township has included future possible hearing dates on its website, www.eastrockhilltownship.org, but no official dates have been announced by the zoning board beyond this month. Township residents have party status and are encouraged to attend.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/31/2019

New Britain to consider fire code, human relations ordinances
Borough Council of New Britain Borough will consider for adoption two ordinances at a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Burkart Hall, 56 Keeley Ave., New Britain. The first ordinance proposes to adopt the 2015 editions of the International Fire Code and the International Property Maintenance Code. The other is a proposed Human Relations Ordinance, which would create the New Britain Borough Human Relations Commission and extend protections of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to cover discriminatory acts on the basis of actual or perceived gender identity or expression, marital status, sexual orientation, training of guide or support animals, use of mechanical aids, and/or source of income within the Borough of New Britain. Full text of both proposed ordinances may be reviewed at New Britain Borough Hall, 45 Keeley Ave., during normal business hours.
Source: The Intelligencer; 1/31/2019

Tullytown to change business privilege tax deadline
Tullytown officials are changing the deadline for filing mercantile and business privilege tax returns to April 30. The change will push back the current deadline for filing mercantile tax returns from Feb. 1, and move up the deadline for business privilege taxes from June 1. The change is meant to prevent confusion by establishing one due date for both taxes, said Borough Treasurer Joe McPadden. Tullytown levies a 1-mill mercantile tax on wholesale vendors’ volume of business for retail vendors and restaurants, and a 1-mill tax on the gross volume of wholesale business for wholesale and retail vendors. The borough’s business privilege tax is set at 1.5 mills with each mill representing $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of business.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 2/4/2019

Aerial tree adventure course considering East Rockhill location
Tree Course Adventures LLC, based in Monroe County, recently notified East Rockhill officials that it intends to apply for a zoning variance that would allow it to develop an aerial tree ropes course on about 10 acres of a 46-acre, mostly wooded, property in the township. Tree Course Adventures intends to set up a recreational destination where securely tethered customers would be able to venture through the trees on a course that could be connected by ropes, platforms and bridges. The property lies in a resource protection district and Tree Course Adventures would need a variance from that zoning to allow for an “outdoor entertainment” use. A gravel parking lot would serve the facility, and setbacks of at least 75 feet from other property lines will be observed with no subdivision or residential development proposed. A hearing on the variance is not yet scheduled. Visit the East Rockhill Township website for hearing schedules and agendas.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 1/31/2019

Chester County 

Sunoco pipeline easements expiring in Chester County
Sunoco’s temporary easements related to construction of the controversial Mariner East pipeline are expiring at sites throughout Chester County, state Sen. Andy Dinniman said. In a lawsuit filed in Chester County Common Pleas Court, attorneys for the Hankin Group, a Chester County-based residential, commercial and retail developer, asked a judge to force Sunoco off four of its properties where it is still constructing the pipeline. The four sites identified in the filing include one at Corner Park Apartments on Boot Road in West Whiteland, one at New Kent Apartments in East Goshen, and two on Stockton Drive and Sierra Drive at Eagleview in Upper Uwchlan. The complaint contends the temporary easement agreement lapsed on the Corner Park and New Kent properties in November, and on the Eagleview properties in January, and calls for Sunoco to immediately cease all pipeline construction activities at the sites, remove all construction equipment, pipes, machinery and related materials there, and restore the affected areas to their prior condition. In addition, Hankin Group is suing Sunoco for trespassing, breach of agreement and damages. The lawsuit cites “damage to the ground caused by excavation; damage from excessive runoff caused by removal of grass and foliage; harm to the value of properties; lost rents; loss of use; and diminution in value of properties.”
Source: Daily Local; 2/4/2019

$96M preliminary budget for Phoenixville schools has $2M deficit
The $96 million preliminary 2019-2020 school budget for the Phoenixville School District includes a $2.2 million deficit even if taxes are raised by 2.3 percent. If adopted unchanged, it would translate into a $95 tax hike for owners of an average property assessed at $135,000, according to a presentation made to the school board Jan. 14. But the tax increase could exceed the 2.3 percent cap set by Pennsylvania’s Act 1, as the district announced it may seek exceptions to the cap. In the past six years, enrollment has increased nearly 20 percent and expenditures have risen 15.7 percent. The current budget includes $950,000 in tax payments from Tower Health, though a legal battle may confirm the nonprofit status of Phoenixville Hospital, which Tower Health recently acquired. Historically the tax hike projected in the preliminary budget has been reduced by the time the final budget is adopted in May or June. The preliminary budget may be adopted at a special meeting on Monday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. in the district offices on City Line Avenue. A “town hall” meeting on the budget is scheduled for Monday, March 11, at 6 p.m. at Manovon Elementary School.
Source: Daily Local; 2/2/2019

Tredyffrin denies permits for digital billboard at busy intersection in Paoli
Tredyffrin Township officials denied two permit requests from Newtown Square-based Catalyst Outdoor Advertising for a digital billboard at a busy intersection in Paoli. The permit to raze the old Clockworks building at Lancaster Avenue and Route 252 and erect an electronic billboard in its place was denied for technical reasons. But according to Township Manager William Martin, it can be re-filed. Catalyst Outdoor Advertising was also denied a permit to digitize the current billboard by Zoning Officer Matt Baumann. Thaddeus Bartkowski, Catalyst’s CEO, had previously presented a plan for a monument-style billboard to replace the existing static board. More than 6,500 residents have signed a petition opposing it. Some have also placed signs in their yards. Catalyst now has 30 days to appeal the ruling to the Zoning Hearing Board.
Source: Daily Local; 1/29/2019

Tredyffrin/Easttown proposed budget calls for tax increase
The Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board adopted the 2019-2020 preliminary budget, which calls for a nearly 6 percent tax increase. To close a projected imbalance of approximately $11 million, the preliminary budget includes a proposed property tax increase of up to 5.96 percent, which would utilize Act 1 referendum exceptions. The final property tax rate for the 2019-2020 school year will be set at the June board meeting after a series of public meetings and budget workshops. The budget will be on the agenda at the upcoming finance committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. in the district’s administration building. The board will also hold budget workshops on Monday, March 11, and Monday, April 8, both at 7:30 p.m. at Conestoga High School. Public comments on the budget may be submitted to business manager Arthur J. McDonnell at mcdonnella@tesd.net or to the school board at schoolboard@tesd.net.
Source: Main Line Suburban Life; 2/5/2019

Delaware County

Clifton shoots down middle school meeting with U.D.
An invitation from Upper Darby School District to Clifton Heights officials to preview plans for a proposed middle school on athletics fields in the borough has been declined by the borough, but a new meeting will be scheduled for all district residents to view the plans. The plans will be made public at a committee meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26. According to Clifton Heights Mayor Joe Lombardo, borough council decided that it would be better for Acting Upper Darby Superintendent Dan McGarry to present to the town and the council. “We don’t want to give our community a perception that we in any way are in favor of doing this,” he said. An ongoing facilities study suggests the district should be focusing on a new middle school building instead of a new elementary school. Lombardo said the community remains involved in this issue following a peaceful rally outside the high school during a school board committee meeting last September.
Source: Daily Times; 2/1/2019

Wallingford-Swarthmore eyes 3.2 percent tax hike
Taxes in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District would increase by 3.2 percent starting July 1 under a proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-2020. The school board is expected to vote on the preliminary plan during its meeting on Monday, Feb. 11. Final adoption of the budget is scheduled for June 10. Wallingford-Swarthmore is permitted under the state’s Act 1 Index to boost taxes by 2.3 percent. However, the district intends to make use of a 0.9-percent exception for special education costs that would clear the way for the higher rate. For a home assessed at the district average of $179,000, with a current annual school tax bill of $8,100, the change will result in an additional $260 in taxes.
Source: Daily Times; 2/6/2019

Radnor approves study of proposed Earle's Lake dam breach
Hoping to protect residents from the possible consequences of breaching the dam that creates Earle’s Lake, the Radnor Township Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an engineering study. The lake is mostly in Newtown Township but borders Radnor, and Radnor is downhill, so it would bear the brunt of the released water. Township Engineer Steve Norcini said the Green Countrie Homeowners Association, which owns the lake, filed a permit with the DEP to breach the dam. “There are residents you met, a couple of them tonight, that have much concern with this action, as have staff, and how it may affect the downstream Radnor Township residents, the stream channel, Sawmill Park and ultimately Darby Creek,” said Norcini. The township will pay about $19,500 to Carroll Engineering to determine the downstream effects of a dam breach, construction sequencing, erosion and sedimentation controls, and to perform a HEC-RAS, which is a computer model of water flow. The study will be paid for through the township’s stormwater fund.
Source: Main Line Suburban Life; 2/1/2019

‘At risk’ status promises resources for Woodbourne Mansion in Darby Borough
A 55-room, century-old mansion that is the centerpiece structure of county-owned land in Darby Borough has been given at-risk status by a private preservation group. The nonprofit organization Pennsylvania Preservation announced that the Woodbourne Mansion at the proposed Little Flower Park is one of five buildings around the state that are included in its 2019 Pennsylvania At Risk list. The Woodbourne is part of an over 30-acre tract of land along Springfield Road in Darby that the county bought in 2016 for use as a park. The mansion, built in 1906 by architect Horace Trumbauer, has fallen into a state of disrepair since it was last used for institutional purposes over 10 years ago. Water damage is extensive inside due to a deteriorating roof and 18 window dormers that have been stripped of their copper linings, allowing water to seep in. County council has put out a bid to repair and/or replace the roof. A recently completed master plan commissioned by the county said it could cost as much as $17 million to restore the mansion for reuse for integration into the park. A viable use for the building has yet to be determined.|
Source: Daily Times; 1/31/2019

Delaware County’s property tax reassessment process continues
Tyler Technologies is now collecting data in the following municipalities: Aston, Bethel, Chadds Ford, Chester Heights, Upper Chichester, Concord, Edgmont, Middletown and Thornbury, as part of Delaware County’s Tax Reassessment Project. The county hired Tyler in 2017 to provide real property appraisal services for the court-ordered, countywide 2020 general reassessment. Learn more about the tax reassessment project on the county’s project website or call the county’s Reassessment Hotline at 610-891-5695.
Source: Daily Times; 2/6/2019

Montgomery County

North Penn draft budget shows $14M deficit
The North Penn School Board got a first look at the district’s 2019-2020 budget that shows an early deficit of over $14 million. “We have a very challenging budget ahead of us for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, and as we always do with the first draft of the budget, we feel this is a worst-case scenario,” said business director Steve Skrocki. To balance the draft budget without any changes would require a 7.86 percent tax increase, Skrocki said. The permissible tax increase for the district under the Act 1 index is 2.3 percent unless the district elects to seek exceptions for certain categories. A 2.3 percent tax increase would amount to an increase of $87 in taxes for a homeowner with a property assessed at the district average of $145,000. Increasing the tax increase using Act 1 exceptions would produce an additional $1.6 million in revenue and raise annual property taxes by $121 for the average homeowner. The preliminary budget is being advertised for adoption on Tuesday, Feb. 12, with a possible vote to seek Act 1 exceptions from the state. All meetings are held at the district Educational Services Center, 401 E. Hancock St., Lansdale. For more information or meeting agendas and materials visit www.NPenn.org.
Source: The Reporter; 2/6/2019

Towamencin awarded $1 million multimodal transportation grant
Towamencin Township has been awarded a $1 million grant to widen Forty Foot Road by the intersection of Tomlinson Road and Heebner Way. Forty Foot Road is a state-owned principal arterial that connects much of the surrounding area to the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Interchange 31. The road is a critical corridor for residential commuter traffic as well as commercial activity and goods movement. The $1 million PennDOT grant will be added to another $825,000 grant from the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). The DCED grant would have only provided funding for a modified-road widening project. The full-scope of the project can now be realized with the additional grant. Towamencin’s traffic engineer will make a presentation on the widening project at the board of supervisors meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Source: Towamencin Township; 2/4/2019

Spring-Ford adopts $171M preliminary budget
The Spring-Ford Area School Board unanimously adopted a $171 million preliminary budget for the 2019-2020 school year. The board also passed a motion authorizing the administration to exceed the state-imposed Act 1 index of 2.2 percent by seeking exceptions for certain purposes. State law allows districts to adopt preliminary budgets in February and seek exceptions to the Act 1 index cap for some items, including special education costs and payments to PSERS, the state education retirement system. The preliminary budget includes a projected deficit of $4.5 million, which would require a 4.2 percent tax increase to close the gap without any spending reductions. The budget will be refined when more data becomes available. A final proposed budget is expected before the school board on Monday, April 15. The current schedule has the board voting to adopt a final budget on Tuesday, May 28.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/31/2019

East Norriton comprehensive plan scheduled for adoption
The East Norriton Township Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. in the East Norriton Township Municipal Building, 2501 Stanbridge St., on the proposed 2019 Comprehensive Plan. The proposed Comprehensive Plan contains information concerning population, housing, existing land uses, economic development, community resources, circulation and transportation in the municipality. The plan proposes a future land use plan for the municipality with goals, map and plan implementation measures. The proposed plan is available for public review at the township building during normal business hours.
Source: Times Herald; 1/31/2019

Philadelphia

Philly officials face council scrutiny on faulty property assessments
Last year, during Philly’s first citywide residential property reassessment since 2013, many homeowners were surprised to see their property values skyrocket — and property taxes along with them — while their neighbors on the same block saw totally different outcomes. City council’s Legislative Oversight Committee has called officials from the Office of Property Assessment (OPA) and other experts to discuss the irregularities. Since the beginning of 2019, two audits have shown flaws in the methods of the OPA. “There are clearly irregularities with assessments,” City Council President Darrell Clarke told reporters during an early January unveiling of an audit of the OPA. “We promised people … that we would have a fair and equitable tax system. But we clearly have some challenges.” Council’s audit showed that there were large swathes of the city where the city’s assessments are off by at least 15 percent. (The report didn’t distinguish between those that were overassessed or underassessed.) It also found that OPA’s methodologies were opaque and not available to the public, making it hard for property owners or other outside observers to determine where the agency went wrong. The Kenney administration agrees that reforms could improve the process. But they argue that progress has been made in recent years and that the city’s tax assessment apparatus is more professional and fairer than it had been before.
Source: Plan Philly; 1/26/2019

Councilwoman introduces bills to reform tax abatement
Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym introduced two bills to reform the city’s controversial 10-year property tax abatement. The first bill would phase out the abatement over 10 years. In the first year, all of the assessed costs would be exempted from property taxes, followed by 90 percent in the second year, 80 percent in the third year, and so on. Gym described this option as a moderate reform with the least effect on development. The second bill would cap the total amount of the assessment not to “exceed the Federal Housing Administration mortgage limit for a one-family dwelling in Philadelphia County.” Only residential abatements would be affected because of concerns about discouraging commercial development in a city with hundreds of thousands of unemployed or underemployed people. Gym said the goal is to funnel more money to the school district by curtailing the 10-year tax abatement on new construction. In recent years, Gym has introduced several pieces of legislation to limit or eliminate the property tax abatement entirely. Critics of the tax abatement program say Philadelphia no longer requires such a generous incentive that robs the school district of much-needed funds. Real estate industry advocates argue that the 10-year tax break spurred much of the new development in the city since the early 2000s.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 1/28/2019


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